Many future Hamlin students will consider becoming a doctor. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to learn about how a person can pursue a career as an ophthalmologist, while giving back to the world both far and near.
Naveen Chandra (husband of Hamlin faculty member Jim Lengel) attended University of Michigan medical school, and knew early on that he wanted to make a contribution to society outside of a standard medical practice. There is a long history of eye doctors going to various parts of the world to perform cataract surgeries, and Naveen chose to join this legacy.
Over the course of the last decade Naveen has performed pro bono corneal transplant surgeries on dozens of patients in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nepal, and his family’s native India. He noted that this work is highly rewarding because cataract surgery cures blindness and “makes the lives of people better.” Among others, he has worked with SEVA, and SEE International, two organizations that coordinate global eye surgery camps.
Naveen is typically in country for one week and performs marathon surgery sessions that last anywhere from ten to fourteen hours a day. During that time he performs six or seven of these delicate, microscopic operations, each lasting 1 to 2 hours. He must work quickly when he first arrives, because the donated corneal tissue will only last for ten days from the time of donation, and must be kept in ice constantly.
With this work, he cited three central contributions to a developing country. One is teaching, he often trains doctors in specialized techniques that they are not familiar with. Second, is tissue access, many countries lack a reliable retrieval system to maintain a supply of corneal material. Third, is equipment, in most cases he brings surgical equipment that is lacking in the facilities abroad.
I asked Naveen about the frequency of his medical visits. He mentioned that he now also focuses on providing volunteer surgery here in the United States, with an organization called Operation Access. Twice a year, he and a team open up their Kaiser center on a Saturday and perform eye surgeries for undocumented people in Contra Costa county. He said that most operation recipients are of working age, from all the continents of the world. He went on to say that “now we can do this type of volunteer work without leaving the United States.”
For more information about organizations that support eye health please visit:
http://www.seva.org/site/PageServer (Based in Berkeley, CA)
http://www.operationaccess.org/ (Based in San Francisco, CA)